12 Most Helpful College Financial Aid Tips

12 Most Helpful College Financial Aid Tips

If you’re the parent of a college-bound child, you know that like everything else these days, a college education is anything but cheap. And if you find yourself lost in the maze of financial aid assistance, banging into dead ends and having to constantly change your direction, you need help!

If you aren’t financially prepared for this stage of life, the hair on the back of your neck probably stood up when you realized just how much a good college education currently costs. You know you need help, but the financial aid process can be overwhelming and stressful. Couple that with the uncertainty of how you’ll react to your “baby” fleeing the nest and you’ve got a recipe for an emotional meltdown.

That’s where I come in. I’ve had the pleasure of helping many parents through the intimidating process of financial aid and am excited to share my 12 most helpful tips.

1. There’s no time like now

Most families who have been through the financial aid process will say they should have started the process sooner. Even in high school, there are important steps you can take to prepare for college. If you’ve already graduated high school, start the process now because scholarships are snatched up quickly, and you’ll want to have your FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) submission ready by early January to ensure your place in federal, state, and school financial aid queues.

2. Do it right the first time

Fill out your FAFSA carefully and submit it correctly. If your application contains errors or incomplete responses, it will be returned to you. The correction process could take weeks that will move you further back in the financial aid queue. Since most need-based financial aid is awarded on a first-come, first-served basis, these few weeks could have a serious impact on your financial aid package.

3. Save money for college

While family assets are a factor in financial aid eligibility, it still makes sense to save for college. In other words, your savings will reduce the amount of financial aid you can receive, but not by much. More importantly, you’ll be expected to contribute some amount of money toward college, and it’s cheaper to use savings than to take out private student loans or borrow against credit cards or home equity.

4. Make it a family affair

The federal government financial aid programs were designed to help families pursue their college dreams and reward those that have more than one dependent student enrolled in college at the same time. In fact, your expected family contribution may drop as much as 50% if more than one family member is attending college.

5. Negotiate

If you’re not happy with the financial aid packages you’re offered, negotiate. The final student aid packages are developed by school financial aid officers, and school officials may not fully understand your financial situation. Talk to them. Ask them how they arrived at the final numbers. Help them understand your position. Each school’s financial aid package may be different, so don’t give up until you’ve tried them all.

6. It’s never too early

Start looking for scholarships and grants, apply for work-study as soon as possible, and don’t stop looking until graduation looms near. Your financial situation or academic record could change over the years, and these changes could have an impact on your financial aid eligibility. Free money for money — scholarships, grants, and fellowship —is awarded for a variety of reasons, not just financial need or GPA, so you may already be eligible for more than you think.

7. Don’t make assumptions

Just about every family is eligible for at least some type of financial aid, even those families who think they earn too much to qualify or who don’t think there are financial aid options available to them. Fill out the FAFSA, and let the Department of Education determine the amount of financial aid you’re eligible to receive. You’ll need to fill out the FAFSA in order to be eligible for any type of federal financial aid.

8. Set your first focus low

Focus first on the lowest-cost financial aid: scholarships, grants, and work-study. These forms of financial aid cost you nothing because they don’t have to be repaid. If scholarships and grants aren’t enough to pay for college, look next to low-cost federal student loans. Avoid high-cost financing, such as home equity loans and credit cards. Not only do these lines of credit carry a high rate of interest, they also require immediate repayment and can jeopardize your creditworthiness and financial status.

9. Aim high

Don’t turn your back on your dream school just because it’s expensive. Your expected family contribution (EFC) is based on your financial situation but can vary from school to school, depending on whether the school is using your federally calculated EFC or its own calculation of EFC. Your financial aid package is based on the cost of attendance minus your EFC, so a more expensive school with a lower EFC may actually award you a more substantial financial aid package than a less expensive school.

10. Meet all deadlines

The financial aid process can be long, and there are so many things to remember. Make photocopies of all forms and applications, and keep them in a handy file. Use a financial aid calendar to stay on top of key financial aid dates and deadlines.

11. Ask for help

Unless you’re a financial aid officer, you probably have questions about the financial aid process and the types of student aid available. Professionally trained Education Finance Advisors can answer just about any question you may have about financial aid and will be happy to guide you through your financial aid options, help you search for scholarships, and assist you in finding the best student loans for what you need.

12. Consolidate your student loans

Federal student loan consolidation is one of the smartest, most economical student loan repayment tools available. The student loan consolidation program allows you to consolidate one or more eligible federal education loans into a single new loan at a fixed-interest rate with no additional fees. For many student borrowers, a student consolidation loan extends the repayment period, resulting in lower monthly payments, plus the convenience of making a single payment each month.

Jodi Okun

http://www.collegefinancialaidadvisors.com/

I LOVE helping parents find the financial resources to cover the cost of College! I take the stress out of the process and empower you with info and support! I examine how you can use college financial aid -- from scholarships to work/study jobs to student loans -- to help pay for that all-important education.

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17 comments
JodiOkun
JodiOkun

I have not had any experience with students working in college adding to the length of time enrolled. Most students I interviewed found that working while in school helped them stay on the 4 year track plan

PRbySweetTooth
PRbySweetTooth

There was some discussion on NPR a few weeks ago that allowing college students to work while in school lengthens the amount of time they are enrolled and can double the cost of tuition, and that it may not be worth it to let our kids "work for their tuition." Any thoughts?

JodiOkun
JodiOkun

No it will not jeopardize your financial aid in anyway...hope this helps

hayitssophielol
hayitssophielol

If I am not using financial aid for an SAT prep class, will it jeopardize my chance with college financial aid?

Dabney Porte
Dabney Porte

Thanks for sharing such great information with us Jodi! I so appreciate your weekly #CollegeCash seminar ~ I learn so much! xoxo

MFallon
MFallon

@jodi - Federal law gives students 2 options when preparing a federal student aid application - do it themselves on US Dept of ED Web site. Or, like income taxes, get professional help. Student Financial Aid Services http://www.fafsa.com is a top FAFSA preparation service and often offers free help to low-income students. Pros ensure accuracy which means most aid possible. January 1 is first day for FAFSA 2011-12. Pros can prepare FAFSA in advance and file first day to get an early place in the virtual aid line. Using last year's income tax OK to 'reserve' your place in aid line.

MFallon
MFallon

@Jodi - Add Net Price Calculators to the list of most helpful. All colleges must post an NPC by Oct. 29. NPC provide prospective students - at minimum - a personalized estimate of aid eligibility and net price. Advanced ones by Student Aid Services used by hundreds of colleges give more insights - work study, military aid, federal loans, monthly repayments of loans. Check out Indiana State U's NPC https://indstate.studentaidcalculator.com/survey.aspx in a few minutes a student can get out-of-pocket a cost estimate and compare it to other schools. First time students can compare personalized costs before applying to colleges.

margieclayman
margieclayman

Oh boy, Jodi, you gave me some nasty flashbacks with this post! I can't even imagine what financial aid is like these days.

What bummed me out in college is that all of my hard work over summer break would result in me making just enough money to lower the financial aid I got. I really enjoyed that :) No, really.

This is great advice. Thank you for sharing your wisdom!

JodiOkun
JodiOkun

@roblehk thanks for the mention #collegecash..hope you can stop by and say "Hi"

JodiOkun
JodiOkun

Hi @Dabney Porte

I am so delighted to help parents with navigating the financial aid process. It is always nice to lend a helping hand

JodiOkun
JodiOkun

Hi M.M.

You are so welcome @AidScholarship ..hope you have a great day!!

I hope your followers and site members are gearing up the financial aid season is here..

JodiOkun
JodiOkun

The new NCP will hopefully help families take a good look at what colleges may cost families in order to give them an idea of what the costs might be @MFallon @Jodi

JodiOkun
JodiOkun

Hi

Yes, sorry about the lower financial aid after summer job. Thanks for the insight and taking the time to comment

Have a great day!!

@JodiOkun

MFallon
MFallon

Every NPC is different. Colleges can buy custom ones, build one, or use the federal NPC template, which is not very accurate because it doesn't follow federal aid rules for determining expected family contribution to determine need-based aid, and it uses need questions to determine merit aid. One major test showed the free federal NPC template to be wrong more than half the time. Custom NPCs like Marquette U and hundreds of others are posting, or home-grown NPCs like Princeton's are more accurate than any others.@JodiOkun @Jodi

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  1. […] This week Jodi had the honor of guest posting on the popular and well-respected website 12 Most to discuss her area of expertise: Financial Aid. If you haven’t been to this site before, experts from many different industries and backgrounds share their wisdom and experience to create resources. You may read Jodi’s whole post here: http://12most.com/2011/10/06/12-helpful-college-financial-aid-tips/ […]

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